Eddie tended to drift into whatever jobs were available that would pay the rent. He was restless at office jobs, at customer service, at doing the same thing daily. He liked quick jobs, big money, selling things, and schemes. Evie misinterpreted this as ambition.
That is, until the day he came to her to admit he had screwed up big time.
“We needed that new car. We needed it,” he said, talking of his own, brand new sedan. His older one had made some unpleasant choking upon starting, and the AC didn’t work, but it could drive him from here to there. “But I couldn’t get financing. You know my credit.”
Evie did know. It was why the apartment lease was in her name.
“Then how’d you get it?” Evie asked, because she knew Eddie’s bank balance too.
Weeks ago he had just said, “I’ll take care of it. I’m going to take care of it.”
Evie had accepted this without questioning because she didn’t like knowing she was being lied to. Eddie was a talk-around-er, a broad-truth man, which didn’t set Evie’s ears buzzing as long as she didn’t try and get him to explain himself, to tack himself down on a solid explanation. In that dysfunctional way, they were a perfect match.
Today, Eddie admitted he had gotten his funds from a loan shark, and now payments were due. Funds Eddie didn’t have.
“I don’t have anything near that,” Evie said upon hearing the number. She had been subsidizing Eddie for the stretch of their relationship. She didn’t have a great-grandmother’s diamond ring to pawn or a retirement savings to cash him. Evie lived a quiet, unambitious life as a circulation desk attendant at a nearby college library. She collected late fines in quarter amounts and signed in students for the study rooms.
Evie did have something though. A talent she detoured around with great effort.
She always knew when someone was lying to her.
When most people thought of superpowers, they think big: super-strength, laser vision, flight. They didn’t think of the static that buzzed through Evie’s ears whenever someone spoke a direct mistruth.
It didn’t happen with sarcasm or acting, anything where the person hearing it wasn’t supposed to believe it anyway. Just any variety of spoken-aloud lies: big, little, or white.
This ability had been with Evie her entire life, passively-existing, although it took her quite a few years to figure it out. Adults lie a lot to children, or at least Evie’s mother had lied a lot to her. She told Evie shots at the doctor’s would not hurt and they did, that grandpa would be okay the day he was picked up in an ambulance from Thanksgiving lunch and he wasn’t, that her dad would visit Evie often after the divorce and he didn’t. This Evie had inherited from her mother, the want to avoid unpleasant things.
As a child, Evie mentioned the fuzz in ears, once, absently, and was taken to a specialist where nothing was determined to be wrong with her hearing.
Eventually she merged into understanding the buzz was a reaction to lies, and eventually after that, that she was an odd one out with this ability. By then she had already grown into an honest young person, who avoided doing things that she would have to lie about. Because she could tell all the world’s lies, Evie felt no need to add to them. Working at a library, the worst lies she had to hear were students swearing they had returned that book still delinquent on their account.
Evie wasn’t sure if she expected the loan shark to be better or worse than he was in reality. Better, in a 1920’s-gangster suit, hair slicked back. Worse, older, with a gut and thinning hairline.
Instead, she found Tad, which was a name that sounded like Evie should be more worried about him hazing Eddie than breaking his kneecaps for failure to make payments. He couldn’t have been more than a few years older than her, mid-thirties, like Eddie. He was average-looking but well-kept, with a head of full, dark hair swept casually back. He wore a suit jacket, but with a v-neck t-shirt underneath.
In other circumstances — in which Evie wasn’t sitting across from him in this awfully square, prefabricated office space, in which she couldn’t fill more than half her lungs with every unsure breath, in which her limbs weren’t twitching with anxious static — Evie might’ve found him attractive.
“You’re here on Rutherford’s behalf?” Tad leaned back in his office chair, one those expensive ones, cushioned and sleekly ergonomic. “I hope this is worth my time. I have no patience for begging or sob stories.” He said all of this pleasantly, but the threat was clear.
Now all Evie had to do was find the words to explain herself, clearly, quickly, and convincingly. She had no practice in lying, but little more in telling her truth.
“I’m here to make a bargain,” she said. She had practiced this in her head, both writing and memorizing this script. “To see if I can work off Eddie’s debt.”
“Please don’t offer me sex,” Tad said, so offhand, so belligerent. “I get offered so much sex to pay off loans, I could never stop having sex if I wanted. But sex doesn’t buy my vacation home in Maui.”
Evie tugged at the collar of her cardigan — pastel blue. “No,” she said. “Not… that.”
“Go on then.”
“I have a talent that could be useful to you. I always know when someone is lying.”
Tad’s dark eyebrows lowered, already bored and dismissive. “I have a pretty good bullshit detector myself.”
“It’s more than that!” Evie leaned forward, spoke fast. “It’s –” But there was no way to explain something so unreal. “Test me. I can prove it.”
Tad tilted his wrist toward himself, glanced down at his watch. It had a golden band.
“It’s 12:30 already,” he said. It would be about that time, and nothing about his tone or expression demonstrated anything but bored detachment.
Yet, static fizzled in the depth of Evie’ ears, distinctly different from the fluorescent lights buzzing overhead.
“Lie,” she said.
He glanced up at her, a twitch of interest. He had been treating the time as a statement of fact, but this was the first testing of the waters.
He straightened up. “I had an egg-white omelet for breakfast.”
“What did I have?”
“I don’t know. I can’t tell you that. I just know you’re lying.”
Tad cracked his neck, held his gaze steady with Evie, who wasn’t feeling as confident, but a little less twitchy.
“I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 23,” he said.
Evie blinked. No static came. “…True.”
Tad barked out something laugh-like. “You trying to make a deal here, and you won’t even preserve my ego.”
“I’m not a very good liar,” Evie said.
“Yeah, well, I am.”
Evie was given other tests to prove herself. Tad had her sit in his office for the length of the day, casually dropping his own lies into conversation here and there, some strange and others innocuous. He arranged for one his employees, the muscle who had been at the door when Evie arrived this morning, come in and lie on purpose to see if she could catch it.
Around what Evie hoped would be quitting time soon, although she was afraid to ask when she could leave, another man came to visit the office. He had the older-worse appearance she had been expecting from Tad, with a swarmy voice and a Hawaiian-printed shirt added.
“Who’s the chick?” the man asked with a touch of a leer.
“Ignore her, Renaldo” Tad said. “She knows she can’t speak about anything she hears here.”
Renalda started in on a loud story of the delays he had ‘collecting’ down on the east end. “There were cops all over the neighborhood. It was like a nightmare.” His voice was fuzzy in her ears.
“Discretion is necessary,” Tad said vaguely. “I hope the funds are all squared away now.”
“Good,” Tad said. “Don’t let it happen again.” The air was tense; Evie thought she could choke it. This was why she worked at a library; the stakes were small.
“Of course, sir,” Renaldo said, but there was nothing deferential about it.
Once he was dismissed and gone, Evie said, “He’s lying.”
“What?” Tad said sharply, turning to her.
She grimaced. “That wasn’t a test?”
“What’s he lying about?” Urgent.
“The delay. And that it won’t happen again.”
“So everything,” he said. He plucked up his phone which had been lying face down on his desk. His desk — wooden, dark-strained, with carved claw feet — was probably the oldest thing the room. “Put a tail on Renaldo,” he said to whoever he called.
“If you’re right about this, you might just be useful to me after all.”
Eddie was a pale guy who easily showed emotion in the color of his complexion. It was odd, the number of colors he could turn: hangover green, pallid ill, hothead red. Purple was a new one. Hothead red under pressure Evie would soon realize.
He was purple-faced and his grip was hard on her upper arms when she rejoined him in the apartment that evening.
“Where have you been?” he demanded, quiet in a way he never was. He was a loud happy person, a loud angry person, and loud everyday person. Never quiet. Even sleeping, he was a snorer.
“Fixing things,” she said, jerking out of his hold, retreating. She could’ve said ‘fixing your things’ or, even more aggressively, ‘fixing your mess.’ No matter what she said, it was clear enough for Eddie to understand.
“What could you do to fix anything?” he said, aggressive, still purple even to the round of his nose.
Evie had never confided her secret to Eddie. What guy wanted a girlfriend who would always know if he was lying?
That night, when she lay stiffly beside him in their shared bed, did she realize that the loan shark was the first person she had ever told about what she could do.
Three days later, she got a call on her personal cell phone even though she had never supplied her number.
“You were right about Renaldo,” Tad said with no introduction. “His delay was caused by him meeting with a — ah — business rival of mine. It’s been handled.”
“Handled?” she squeaked.
“With discretion.” Evie could hear him smiling; there was nothing pleasing about it. “I need you for lunch today. I’m sending a car. Be ready in thirty.”
The car he sent was a town car, black and sleek and better than any car she had ever ridden in before.
Evie felt distinctly under-dressed when she was dropped off at the fine dining restaurant with a tux-wearing maitre de, in her dress slacks and button down. Librarian wear.
She was led to small, white-table-cloth-draped table in a private corner in the back. Tad was there already, a glass of red wine before him. The table was only set for two, but there were three chairs: Tad’s, one across from him at a table setting, and one beside him. Tad waved to the one beside him and said a curt “Here” when she arrived. She sat hands folded in her lap, hunched in.
“Straighten up,” Tad said, barely glancing her way as he reached for his wine glass. Something about the red wine sloshing in the bowl of the stemware over a starch white tablecloth made Evie nervous. “Look like you belong here.”
“I don’t what I’m doing here,” Evie replied, wringing her fingers out of sight, between her knees.
“Being a lie detector test. I’m meeting an associate to over a real estate deal. You don’t have to say anything. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Just listen.”
Tad’s associate arrived shortly later. Unlike Ronaldo, this man had the appearance of money in the crisp crease of his pants, in the delicacy of holding the crystal water glass, in the lilt of his voice.
“You brought a date?” he questioned.
“She’s my new accountant,” Tad said, as easy as it were the truth. “Real whizz with numbers. Can do it all up in her head. Don’t mind her.” With that, Evie was dismissed from all other attention or conversation.
Evie was used to being overlooked. She was quiet, she was plain, she never actively drew attention to herself, and nothing about her drew attention on its own accord. In most rooms, she could’ve been mistaken for the pattern in the wall paper.
This was why Eddie’s attention — with his cleft chin and his large personality — had flattered her so much when they first met. She had existed not to be seen and he saw her.
Evie sat through two hours of conversation that zig-zagged across all manner of relevant and irrelevant topics, although she wasn’t always sure which were which, but every time her ears buzzed she had to add an item into a flimsy mental list. Tad was causing most of it, but she didn’t have to report on him anymore. Maybe.
After — both after the man had left and after the plates of rare steak that turned her stomach to watch sliced open were removed — did she had to repeat her list of lies to Tad. He hummed, hearing them, leaned back in his chair, dark-eyed and contemplative. Evie didn’t know what it all would amount to and didn’t want to know. She didn’t want to know about Renaldo. She was providing a service, like at the library. She pointed students in the direction of the books they were looking for. She was not responsible for what they used the knowledge for.
Plausible deniability. Was it plausible enough for her to sleep on?
“I was trying to call you all afternoon,” Eddie said, door slammed as a period mark.
“Not all afternoon,” Evie replied. The teacup she lifted was scalding under her fingertips. She had nuked it in the microwave after she hadn’t sipped it away while it was still warm. She couldn’t handle solid foods right now, just like she couldn’t handle answering the two voicemails and seven texts Eddie had left on her phone.
To think of it, where had Eddie been? He didn’t have a regular job right now. Where did he have to go?
Evie didn’t ask questions when she was afraid of the answers.
“I was with Tad,” she said, settling the teacup back on the table with the tiniest of clinks. Carefully, nearly noiseless, with her legs crossed at the ankles and tucked back under the chair she sat.
“Tad?” Eddie repeated like it were a swear.
“Tad Swanson — Mr. Swanson.”
Eddie knocked a hip into an end table as he paced, sending a cascade of magazines to the floor. He left them there.
“Are you screwing him?”
Evie’s hand flexed in the air by her teacup, straining past straight. “No.”
Eddie jerked out the chair across from her and plopped down heavily, his butt in the seat and his elbows on the table.
“I don’t get what you’re doing with him,” Eddie said. They had never finished this argument from the other night.
“I’m an accountant.” Evie knew where this lie was supplied from, but not where the boldness to say it so matter-of-factly came from.
So matter-of-factly, that Eddie blinked, leaned back, said, “Really?” His tone was intrigued, not interrogating. “I guess — I guess you are good with numbers.”
Evie was no math whiz, she just knew how to keep a household budget in an excel spreadsheet, which was more than Eddie knew how to do.
The next time Evie was called into Tad’s service, she had to call in sick to work to accommodate it. This time they were headed out to a meeting being held in an accommodation in a rural area outside the city, which would take at least an hour to reach by car. “I like to get everyone out of their comfort zones,” Tad said by way of explanation.
While it would’ve been nice, in Evie’s estimation, to spend the passing time stuck in her own head, watching the whatever pass by her window, it was inevitable that the time stuck together in the backseat together would lead to conversation. Tad too had a large personality, although it was much smoother than Eddie’s.
“Now tell me what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done with your gift?” Tad asked, picking an invisible speck of lint from the knee of his pants.
Evie had tucked herself compactly on the side of her seat creating the largest possible gap between them. Tad sat comfortably lax and spread.
“Gift is a strange word for it,” she said.
“It’s more of a hindrance.”
They were passing over a bridge and below them the water rippled like a painting. If the window were cracked, Evie might’ve been able to smell the saltiness of it. She loved the salty smell of oceans and beaches. The cab only smelled of recycled air.
“Imagine,” she said, “no one ever being able to tell you a white lie to spare your feelings. Never being thrown a surprise party.”
“I don’t like surprises,” Tad said.
“Imagine knowing the worst possible things about people and not being able to do anything about it.”
“Do people regularly lie about the worse possible things to you, Evie?”
“I proactively avoid those situations, actually, but imagine… overhearing things, someone saying things like ‘what do you think I am, a child molester or something’ and buzz… you know, and you can’t do anything about it.”
“Why can’t you do anything about it?” Tad said evenly, although Tad was attuned enough at reading people to know what Evie had just described wasn’t a hypothetical.
“What could I do about it?” Evie had turned over possibilities in her head that day and days since, but all she had was the glimpse of a stranger’s face, someone else in a shared coffee shop space, and her substantial knowledge.
“Sounds like a great opportunity for extralegal justice.”
“Justice,” she snorted. “What do you care about justice?”
Tad leaned across the space between them, said in a whisper low under the growl of the engine, “Even criminals like me have lines.”
When they arrived at the lake house, Tad ordered one of the scurrying staff to set an additional setting at the table and Evie had to wonder if he were more than just the neighborhood loan shark she had pegged him for.
“There’s going to be a lot of lying tonight,” Tad confided her. “A bunch of people who exaggerate themselves in some areas and downplay others. We all have strategies going. Just listen for the answers for any direct questions I ask.”
It was a long evening, a meal gathering of eight people, all as opinionated and devious as Tad himself. True to Tad’s estimation, they all lied a lot, the buzzing in Evie’s ears near constant. The truth was easier to pick out amongst the conversation.
It was a tiring evening. By the time the guests were gone, Evie was slumped in her chair.
“Are you not going to eat that?” Tad asked, nodding down at her dessert plate, where sat an apple tart, unscathed by fork or knife.
“I couldn’t possibly eat another bite,” Evie said.
“Not even a bite? They’re divine. I challenge you to that bite.”
Evie took up the challenge by taking up her fork and cutting a small portion off the tart. The crust was flaky, the apple sweet. The bite was worth it.
“Now we have a lot to talk about,” Tad said. “Let’s go over tonight while it’s still fresh.”
Evie ended up staying the night in one of the lake house’s many bedrooms, still in her stockings as she slept. It lead to a screaming match with Eddie when she arrived home the next day. It was predictable, Eddie being upset. What was unpredictable: Evie screaming back.
“I should’ve asked this before now,” Evie said, reciting practiced words, “but I was scared. How much, exactly, am I paying off, working for you.”
“But you’re not scared anymore?” Tad said.
“No,” Evie said. “I think you’re reasonable.”
Tad’s thick eyebrows peaked up, amused. “Well, let’s call it at one hundred dollars an hour.”
“One hundred — ?”
“Too low?” Tad teased.
“You know it’s –”
“Librarians don’t get paid that well?”
“No,” Evie said.
“I was thinking,” Tad said, scooting forward in his office chair. Evie was standing before his desk. She felt a little stronger having this conversation about money on her feet. “If you’re going to be an hourly worker, I would like to have you here on a more regular basis. I wouldn’t have caught Renaldo if you hadn’t accidently been here.”
“I — I can’t quit my job. I still have rent to pay.”
“That can be handled,” Tad said easily. “Half your pay goes towards Rutherford’s debts, and the other half goes to you. Fifty dollars an hour is still more than a librarian.”
Evie shifted the weight between her heels. “I’m not even a librarian. I’m a circulation associate.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Librarians get paid better.”
Tad laughed, full of amusement. Evie frowned.
“I need a job to go back to once Eddie’s debt is settled.”
“Do you? Because I can see your use extending indefinitely into the future.”
Evie shifted her weight again; these shoes pinched her toes. “I don’t want to keep doing this,” she said. “I don’t want to be… culpable.”
“Culpable?” Tad had an annoying habit of repeating singular words Evie used like he was asking the definition.
“Is Ronaldo dead?” she said back.
“Of course not,” Tad said easily. “He’s just taken an early retirement.”
Lie. Lie. Evie felt unbalanced on her aching feet; dizzy.
Tad added with a smirk: “You know what I mean.”
The dark brown anthers of a bouquet of sunflowers glared up at her like overlarge eyes from the coffee table. A toilet flushed, a door opened, footsteps moved closer. Eddie’s tangy cologne revealed itself to her nose. She didn’t need to look up to know he was there.
“What are these?” Bouquets were rarely given to her, an apathetic gift on her birthday and Valentine’s, picked up from a stall on the way home, after the delicate petals had been attacked by the sun all day long.
“They’re for you,” Eddie said in a tender tone she hadn’t been accustomed to hearing of late. “We’ve been fighting a lot lately. I’ve been ungrateful.”
All true. Eddie admitting it though…
Eddie’s arms wrapped around her waist from behind as he settled up warm and close to her body. Perhaps Evie could release her unease of her unsettling conversation with Tad and forgive all the tension in her relationship with Eddie if she could let go. Let go and let Eddie lead her into the bedroom and lead her through something routine but overdo. Familiar touches, familiar result, but Evie liked most things familiar. She didn’t like shocking truths; she liked knowing the path of her day and walking it.
After, skin-to-skin, Eddie whispered in her ear, “I love you.”
Evie’s ears buzzed.
“I saved his life, and he doesn’t love me anymore.” Evie’s breathes came in short gasps. Her scratchy cardigan felt like ants crawling up her arms. Her lungs burned.
Was this a panic attack?
She keeled over half in her chair, hands cupped over her mouth, trying to heave in air as her eyes stung and blurred.
“I got involved in organized crime.” Fickle and hysterical, she laughed. “I’m an accessory to — to –”
“Pretty much everything,” a cool, amused voice said.
Was Evie really doing this here? In this office, with this company? Tad wasn’t her friend. He was her employer. But he was the only one that knew the whole truth of her. He was the one who asked if something was wrong upon seeing her this morning.
“Listen, Evie.” Fingers tilted up her chin. “That douchebag isn’t worth the time of day it takes to say his name. I knew that from the beginning. What kind of man lets his woman clean up his mistakes and then not worship the ground she walks on for it. He could die tomorrow and the world would just keep turning on without him. You’re something else. You’re profound.”
But she loved Eddie. She loved him. Her heart still pounded that out in Morse code. How unfair it was to be destroyed like this.
An irritated sigh. She better figure out how to calm herself, get ready to get down to business. Tad didn’t owe her his patience, and his patience wasn’t something she cared to try. She grit her teeth to the point of making her jaw ache, and tried to bring in even breaths through her nose of the Lysol-scented air.
“You’re only saying that because I’m…” She cast her eyes to the side. “Useful.”
“That’s what everyone in the goddamn world is… useful or not. You — You’re pure potential. I could make you great. Powerful. Rich… Tell me if I’m lying.”
She looked him in eyes, coal black and so alight.
She sipped at her coffee, over burnt and unsweetened.
Tad slapped down a bound wad of 100 dollar bills in front of her. Evie couldn’t resist feathering her thumb over the edge.
“What is that?” she said.
“If he doesn’t love you anymore, you got no reason to be paying off his debts. Means you got back pay.”
“You think money would really make me happy right now?”
“When you’re rich, you can live any life you want. That’s happiness.”
But Evie had no great ambitions for her life beyond the simple pleasures of a home and quietness and never knowing anyone’s lies. The path Tad offered was loud and unpredictable. Staying with Eddie, that was the path living with lies. Both were undesirable, but one, more so.
“I think he’s cheating on me,” Evie admitted. For her this was a lesser sin than the loss of being loved, a subscript. Cheating could be stopped, repented for, forgiven. How was one to earn back something elusive as love? “I followed him to an apartment building of no one we know. I don’t know what he could be doing there.”
“I can’t believe you’re even questioning this,” Tad said.
“He’s the only person who ever really… noticed me.”
“I noticed you.”
“Because I’m useful.”
“You think he’s not using you?” Tad said with bark-laugh. “I knew you were weak-willed, I didn’t take you for being stupid.”
“Shut up,” Evie said, in pure reaction. It was her equivalent of standing up and slapping someone. Evie the meek. Evie the weak-willed.
This reaction seemed to be what Tad was hoping for. He had provoked her on purpose.
“Do you want me to kill him?” he asked.
“No,” Evie said.
“Do you want him beat up?”
“What do you want?”
What did Evie want? She wanted to be free of this curse; she wanted the option to live in blissful ignorance, to live accepting lies if she wanted to. To hear someone say ‘I love you’ and that be all she heard. She wanted to go back before all of this that had happened, to fix it preemptively: Eddie’s debts, Eddie’s wavering. These were all impossible wants.
Her eyes dropped to the stack of bills left on the corner of Tad’s desk for her. She wondered how many stacks it would take for her to be able to buy a home like the lake house, far from the bustling city of people, remote. Quiet. Freedom from lies and truth, if only she suffered through enough of Tad’s associates’ lies first.
It was a much quicker retirement than the path at the library. High stakes and high rewards.
Evie cleared her throat, and spoke, “I want him out of my apartment. My name’s on the lease anyway. I want him gone.”
“And… I think I’ll take you up on that full time position.”
Tad smirked, no less dangerous than the day she had first walked into his office, but not for her. She was useful. It was time, now, for Evie to use that for herself.
Margery Bayne is resident of Baltimore, a graduate of Susquehanna University’s Writers Institute, the recent second place winner of Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s Amateur Writing Contest, and works every day surrounded by books in a public library. More about her and her writing can be found at http://www.margerybayne.com.